The Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Council last week attended the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Melbourne. ATDC Policy and Research Officer Dr Jackie Hallam discusses what she learnt in this post.
I attended the Global Alcohol Policy Conference 2017 in Melbourne from October 4-6 and wow, it was great. Firstly here’s a stat for you – 62 percent of the world’s population abstain from alcohol. As an Australian, I had assumed that we were normal. Nuh-uh! This can of course be explained by variables such as poverty and religion, however I still had no idea that we were in the minority. So let that sink in. Globally speaking, alcohol use is not ‘normal’.
The conference was focused around alcohol policy and how to generate change. A lot of the speakers queried the level of influence that the alcohol industry has on government. We heard that in many states that the lobbying power and position of alcohol industry advocates was very strong in comparison to those that advocate on behalf of public health, specifically reducing the harm from alcohol consumption.
As June Oscar in the conference oration said: “The challenge from the alcohol industry is constant and we must be forever vigilant”. Now this on face value seems dramatic, but when we examine sheer numbers of industry lobbyists and their influence, it isn’t. I think we’d benefit from some work in Tasmania, examining the industry and its relationship with government. From corporate sponsorship to mass advertising to its presence at state run events; simply put- it’s everywhere. While the ATDC supports harm reduction, we also need to highlight potential costly public health issues that bring people to our treatment services. Are we collecting money from alcohol taxes but then have to spend more to correcting the issue later? Unsafe levels of alcohol use is proven to cause cancer and most people don’t know this.
Lastly, it was clear that the road to policy change and effective advocacy included several steps. Presenting evidence is not enough, we need to build coalitions across the whole of society and humanise the issue. We need more stories from people affected by alcohol. We also need effective modelling of behaviour from leaders. It’s not ‘normal’ to go and get written off regularly.
The ATDC has an opportunity to lead with this issue and build some clear messages into our advocacy. I’ll be advocating for an alcohol keynote at our conference in May 2018. Meanwhile take a look at the following two examples of policy and advocacy from California and New Zealand, I think they’re getting it right:
By Dr Jackie Hallam